The Dutch royal family will stop using a gold-covered horse-drawn carriage from the late 19th century, which has long drawn criticism for its painted panel glorifying the colonial history of the Netherlands.
“As long as Dutch people suffer from discrimination on a daily basis, the past will cast a shadow over our times,” King Willem-Alexander said in a video message announcing the decision on Thursday. “The Golden Coach will be able to ride again when the Netherlands are ready, which is not the case at the moment.”
The city of Amsterdam gave the carriage as a gift to Queen Wilhelmina, the first woman to sit on the Dutch throne, in 1898. It is covered in gold and decorated with paintings on its side panels which were created by a prominent Dutch artist of the time. , Nicholas van der Waay.
One of these paintings, “Tribute from the Colonies”, represents a young woman on a throne, the personification of the Dutch kingdom at the time, with an African in a loincloth bowing before her and Asians dressed in batiks presenting her with gifts. , a depiction of the Dutch colony in present-day Indonesia. The themes of slavery and Dutch colonialism have long made the car a target for criticism, especially for descendants of the formerly colonized peoples in the Netherlands.
“We can’t rewrite the past,” King Willem-Alexander said in the video, “but we can try to come to terms with it together.” Last year an online petition to stop the use of the coach garnered more than 9,000 signatures, and campaigners have long opposed it.
The King and Queen have primarily used the coach for the annual opening ceremony of the Dutch Parliament each September in The Hague, most recently in 2015. Since then the coach has undergone an estimated 1.4 million renovation dollars and was on public display as part of an exhibition at the Museum of Amsterdam, which ends at the end of February.
Urwin Vyent, director of the National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy, said the decision was a step in the right direction, adding that he hoped it would lead to an official apology for the colonial heritage of the Netherlands. “As far as we are concerned, it can stay in a museum and become part of a new historical consciousness,” Mr. Vyent said.
Devika Partiman, who is a board member of Netherlands Gets Better, an organization that aims to educate the Netherlands about the consequences of its history of colonialism and slavery, welcomed the decision but said she wondered why the king had left the door open to use the trainer again in the future.
“Even if there comes a day when we will have dealt with the colonial past,” Ms. Partiman said, “why would you want to ride in a horse-drawn carriage where colonial history is shrouded in splendour?”
The car has long divided opinion in the Netherlands. Many people have also championed it as part of Dutch history.
“There won’t be a moment when we’ll be done with this,” said Margriet Schavemaker, artistic director of the Amsterdam museum. “It’s important to start a conversation with each other about this.”
As part of the exhibition and wider research around the country, she said the museum spoke to many people about their thoughts on the coach and its meaning.
Last summer, King Willem-Alexander said he was “listening” to discussions and public forums on the subject, and promised to come back with a decision on the car at a later date.
“The King follows the societal discussion about the Golden Coach and knows the different perspectives of society and politics,” said a spokeswoman for the Dutch Royal House. She said the coach would be kept at the Royal Stables in The Hague, alongside the other Royal Family cars, after the Amsterdam display.